Winter is on our doorstep and creeping into the garden. Earlier this week, I tucked in the garden for the season. The only thing left to do is cover up a few plants with evergreen boughs when the temperature remains mostly around zero degrees.
On the morning of November 18th, we had the first dusting of snow. It didn’t stick around long, but I captured a few images in the garden. I’ll share them here.
I love thyme. Period. I love the smell, the taste, the hardiness, the appearance, the growth habit and the flowers. I grow several plants in my garden. Since it is a perennial, it doesn’t grow well for me indoors, so the only time I get fresh thyme for my meals, is when I pick it from outdoors.
Here we are, November 20th, deep into autumn in Nova Scotia, and my thyme is still doing well.
In the past few weeks, temperatures have dipped below zero a few times, gracing the early morning landscape with frost. It makes the air crisp and refreshing.
The leaves have clung to the trees fairly well in spite of a few days of high winds. In fact, the day I planted my Midgarden garlic (update coming soon), most of the leaves were still attached to the branches of the Horse Chestnut that hung over the end of the bed. That night, we reach -2 degrees Celsius. Heavy frost greeted us at dawn. Walking into the garden, I was shocked to see about 1/3 of the leaves from the huge tree had fallen and blanketed the ground, burying one end of the garlic bed in a thick layer.
A few days later, another 1/3 of the leaves fell off. Within a week, only a few remained on the horse chestnut.
In my gardening journey, I seek plants that grow well in my climate. If they are perennial – come back every year – it’s an added bonus. If I can eat it, it’s a staple.
Sunroot is both perennial and edible. They’ve been eaten by humans for centuries, yet I didn’t grow up eating them or growing them in the garden. I don’t know anyone who grew them. Once a staple in the homesteader garden, the sunroot has been replaced with more fashionable edible perennials such as rhubarb and asparagus.
When I tried to find a source for the tubers, I failed. My sister and her son joined the hunt. After two years, my nephew stumbled upon an old rural garden outlet that had sunroots growing in its field. They didn’t sell it but remembered it was growing there. They dug up a few tubers, and I was the lucky recipient of three small pieces.
In the past several years, I’ve heard a lot about preppers, and I’ve watched many videos on how they prepare. One topic of discussion that comes up regularly is long-term food storage. This food is intended to sustain individuals in the household for x-amount of time. Some keep a month’s supply of food on hand while others keep a year or two stashed in their pantry.
What continues to amuse me is up until about sixty years ago, having a storage of food in the pantry was common practice. Perhaps people living in cities were less inclined to keep a month’s worth of food on hand, but those living in the country dedicated space, time, money and energy to having a well-stocked pantry for the brutal winter months.
In today’s climate, my family would have been considered preppers because our freezer was full of deer meat, rabbit meat, fish and various items bought from the grocery store. By the end of October, shelves in the cold room were stocked with preserves my mother had done down: chow, pickles, cranberry jam, blueberry jam and a host of other foods picked from the garden or gathered from the forest that surrounded our neighbourhood.
On my journey to be self-sufficient with garlic – I mean Queen of Garlic – I have met with success in the summer of 2021. If you haven’t read about the garlic growing in my garden, check out this post: In the Garden: Growing Garlic.
While the garlic donated from my sister and nephew grew well, the garlic that has grown in my garden since November 2019, which I dubbed Midgarden Garlic, did amazing. I expected three cloves per bulb, but instead I got four or five cloves.
I use a lot of garlic. While I’ve grown it off and on over the years, I’ve never planned for the future of my garlic patch. I’d buy bulbs in the fall and plant in October, then eat all I harvested the following year thinking if I decided to grow it again, I’d buy more bulbs at the garden centre.
That changed in 2019 when I walked into the feed store and saw locally-grown organic garlic for sale. Something in my brain said, “Buy it; grow it; grow it again. Be sustainable in garlic.”
Stepping onto the Self-sustaining Path
With little money to invest in my big plan, I bought one bulb. That one bulb had three cloves. It was already mid November but the ground was still workable, so I planted the three cloves at the end of a garden bed that had grown tomatoes that year. After tossing a small mound of hay and two evergreen boughs over the patch, I walked away and hoped for the best.
Planting 3 cloves of garlic in the garden November 2019
In January, I set goals for the coming growing season in the garden. While I can’t dig in the frozen soil, I can plan what I’ll grow to become more self-sufficient.
Last year, my goal was to grow a year’s supply of herbs to use in my cooking. That was accomplished. In fact, I have more variety than I usually do. The herbs I grew, harvested and dried were rosemary, basil (green and purple), thyme, sage, summer savory and parsley (straight and curly)
I also grew and dried peppermint and lemon balm to use as a tea mix. Opening that bottle of peppermint and taking a deep breath, it smells like After Eight mints. Mmm.
2021 Garden Goals
This summer, I want to repeat my success and grow all the herbs I use in cooking. To this, I’m adding sweet marjoram and dill.
An added goal is to grow several plants I can harvest and dry to make tea that will supply me for one year. This means I’ll grow and harvest more peppermint and lemon balm. To this list, I’ll add stevia (a natural sweetener), German chamomile, stinging nettle and fennel. I’ll also harvest some of the lavender flowers and raspberry leaves from the many plants I have.
While I’ll grow the foods I grew last summer, one specific goal is to grow 80 pounds of potatoes. Last year, I grew about 40 pounds. Yesterday, I ate the last of the potatoes grown in 2020. They still tasted great, even when eaten raw.
So far, I’ve already sown rosemary, an herb that take a long time to grow. By the time I’m ready to plant it outside, it should be about three inches tall. I’m experimenting with keeping last year’s plants alive in our cold winter, so hopefully, I’ll start the summer with a few mature plants already in the garden as well as new ones.
Shortly after Christmas, I went through Veseys Seed Catalogue and made a list of seeds I wanted to order for the coming growing season. This year’s order was small though I’m still contemplating a few other things. I’ll make up my mind before the end of January and make a second order if needed.
Why is my order small? Over the years, I’ve ordered many packages of seeds from various companies. I often don’t use all the seeds in an envelope, so I store them for the future. Seeds are good for a few years if they are kept in a dry, dark, cool (not below zero) place.
Last year, I put time into gathering seeds from plants in the garden. Once I learned how, it was easy to save many seeds. Usually I buy a few different varieties of tomato seeds, but I’m not buying any this year. I have about 300 seeds ready to be sown, but I’m not planting that many. I usually put in about a dozen plants.
The bonus about learning how to harvest seeds for future use is I save money. I usually spend about $50 a year on seeds and root stock. Since I don’t have to buy many seeds this year, I’m expanding my collection and buying a few different things I’ve never grown before. Two of those things are watermelon and stevia.
As a long-time gardener who began learning about building a food forest and permaculture only a few years ago, Blackmore’s book intrigued me.
The reasons I bought the book after talking with Blackmore were:
I wanted to learn more about permaculture in general.
I wanted to learn what Blackmore experienced from growing food in similar weather conditions and climate zone as I grew in.
Although a long-time gardener, I wanted to see if she had general garden knowledge to share that I had yet to learn.
Speaking with the author provided an insight not available when buying the book online or in a store, and I got the sense that Blackmore not only had a passion for gardening, she knew what she was talking about. She not only wrote the book, I believed she had valuable hands-on experiences to share.
I wanted to support a local author.
I’ve been gardening since I was a child, playing beside my mother, watching her plant potatoes, beets and carrots, and listening to her explain the different methods of planting each vegetable. She learned her gardening skills from her parents in the 1920s in a small community on the shoreline of Newfoundland where if your crops failed, you went hungry.
In my mid-20s, I began working at a large garden centre. By this time, I had grown many things. My knowledge continued to increase as I listened to the experts (though not all advice was good advice for the organic gardener), read magazines and bought books to increase the size of my library.
Many years later, I have a large collection of printed material to keep me busy reading through long winter nights. Unfortunately, not all of it is garden friendly. Some of the material discusses herbicides, pesticides and other nasty things to introduce into the growing environment. The preferred method of gardening in some of these books is not what I practise now. I prefer to walk with nature, not stomp over it and conquer it.